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  What Dreams May Come What's On The Other Side?
Year: 1998
Director: Vincent Ward
Stars: Robin Williams, Cuba Gooding Jr, Annabella Sciorra, Max von Sydow, Jessica Brooks Grant, Josh Paddock, Rosalind Chao, Lucinda Jenney, Maggie McCarthy, Wilma Bonet, Matt Salinger, Carin Sprague, June Lomena, Paul P. Card IV, Werner Herzog
Genre: Romance, FantasyBuy from Amazon
Rating:  7 (from 4 votes)
Review: Chris Nielsen (Robin Willams) met his wife to be on a Swiss lake. She was Annie (Annabella Sciorra), an artist, he was a medical student, and they soon fell in love and were married, never happier than when they were in each other's company. Time passed and the couple had two children, but then one fateful morning they were driven to school without their parents and were tragically killed in a collision with a truck. It was difficult, and Annie suffered more than Chris, but he managed to keep her going through dark times; however, how would she cope if he were cruelly taken away from her as well?

What's worse, Robin Williams laughing or Robin Williams crying? Well, the kindest answer would be the latter, as it's no fun to see anybody crying, but when he's supposed to be in tears for purposes of our entertainment, then many justifiably have reservations. In the latter half of his career, he proved himself a skilled straight actor and for some was more palatable in such roles than in the comedy he made his name with, but even his biggest supporters might balk at the plotline of What Dreams May Come, a sentimental afterlife epic based on the novel by Richard Matheson.

Adapted by Ron Bass, usually known for his "chick flicks", it was the fourth feature for the New Zealand cult auteur Vincent Ward, a talent who had based his reputation on a surprisingly small amount of movies. This was the man who had been thrown off Alien 3, but bounced back with Map of the Human Heart, a typically ambitious production that hardly anyone went to see. Similarly, this film cost a lot of money and ended up underachieving at the box office with audiences unsure of the value of seeing a twinkly-eyed Williams not only die, but try to save the distraught wife he had left behind: it sounded unbelievably mawkish, and in truth the final result rarely settled on a fitting tone or a convincing romance for that matter (we're told they are "Soulmates" and therefore special).

So once Chris is killed in a car smash (yes, him too), he finds himself floating around with a blurry Cuba Gooding Jr as his guide, witnessing his own funeral and how much poor Annie misses him and indeed her kids now they're all gone. Well, they will be reunited in the heaven that Chris ends up in, surely? That heaven is an impressively fashioned riot of colour and rolling landscapes, based on paintings that Chris has loved over the years, including Annie's. Literally, at first, as the lake and hills he is wandering through are made entirely from gooey paint. Cuba appears once more, non-blurry this time and walking on water, to explain the afterlife to him, which is where the film tends to fall down badly.

Obviously nobody knows what happens after we die, if anything, but despite the beauty of the imagery Ward creates, there's a cloying feel, and an inclination towards outright daftness or even crassness - a bird doing a big painty shit on Williams, for example. After a while, you notice the film is not so much an adventure rather than a series of earnest conversations of largely New Age hippy-dippy self-actualisation that serve to illustrate the impossibility of representing the unknowable and infinite. And God? He must be about somewhere, but we have to take that for granted as there's not so much as a man with a long, white beard to be seen here. Max von Sydow is the closest thing we get, and he is the guide into hell where Chris must venture when Annie commits suicide and is banished there (as if suicides don't have enough to worry about). Among the incidental strangeness is an appearance by Werner Herzog as one of the damned, but really this is a film that is far better to look at than listen to. File under "brave try". Music by Michael Kamen.
Reviewer: Graeme Clark


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